Lethal Laboratories:
Animal Welfare Act Violations Which Killed Animals in Laboratories During 2010

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Lethal Laboratories:
Animal Welfare Act Violations Which Killed Animals in Laboratories During 2010

By Michael A. Budkie, A,H,T, Executive Director, SAEN - March 2010


The people of the United States want to believe that animal laboratories are clean tidy enterprises that follow the law and treat animals well. However, is this accurate? How often do laboratories break the law? What are the consequences for animals?

The USDA publishes information on Animal Welfare Act (AWA the only law that regulates laboratories) annually. For 2009, the most recent year for which information is available, laboratories violated the law 1000 times affecting 24,429 animals, enough to allow the AWA to be broken three times every day.

So, clearly the law is broken very often.

The most common violations were committed by Institutional Animal Care & Use Committees, supervisory panels within laboratories charged with approving experimentation and enforcing federal laws. These committees violated federal law 361 times, about once a day, and these violations account for 36% of the total. IACUC violations affected 6498 animals. It is also important to discuss the nature of the violations, and one way to do this is to look at the most severe kinds of violations. Were any violations directly related to situations that killed animals? What violations are directly tied to incidents that killed animals?

Negligent Fatalities

The most recent year for which a reasonable sample of information is available is 2010. During 2010, 19 labs committed violations that killed animals. 18 of these labs killed 100 animals, or about 5.6 animals each.

However, one facility apparently killed a large number of animals, the report for this facility describes the deaths of “numerous” hamsters. It is impossible to say what numerous means in this instant. It can be assumed that this is a high number of animals, we can likely assume over 20, so we will use 20 for the purpose of examining this data. This would mean that 19 labs killed an average of 6.3 animals per lab in one year through negligence.

What kinds of violations are involved? – Inadequate veterinary care, unqualified personnel, inadequate functioning by the Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee, improper handling of animals, improper housing, improper motor conveyances. Clearly, many kinds of violations can be very serious, even those that sound like they might be only paperwork.

Virtually all categories of violations can literally take the life of an animal. The situations that killed animals can be attributed to several different causes: botched surgical/experimental procedures, drug overdoses, untreated illnesses, neglect, bleeding to death, boiled alive, hypothermia, suffocation, etc.

What has been the result of these violations? Has meaningful action been taken against these facilities by the USDA? Out of 19 labs, only one, North Carolina State University has been fined, and then only $5,537. The fine that was issued was relevant to two violations, which could have been given penalties of $10,000 each, and so in the sole instance where the USDA took any action, they issued a fine that was only 25% of the potential total.


Therefore, we can draw several conclusions from this brief examination, but they all lead in one direction.

The system is broken.

Labs violate the law sufficiently to kill animals and the result is that in most instances the USDA does nothing about it, and when they are actually fined, the fine is only 25% of the potential total penalty.

A pattern appears when examining the data from the point of view of the way that the USDA functions. Fifteen out of the nineteen labs that killed animals through negligence fall under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Regional Office of the Animal Care Division of the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA (USDA/Aphis/AC). It would be difficult to attribute this solely to random chance because the situation is so terribly lopsided. 79% of the labs who killed animals through negligence are under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Regional Office of Animal Care. This is not the first time that the Eastern Regional Office of Animal Care has been criticized – see http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33002-03-SF.pdf .

This link is for a 2005 audit report for an investigation done by the Office of the Inspector General of the USDA. One of the sections is titled: “The Eastern Region is not Aggressively Pursuing Enforcement Actions Against Violators of the AWA.” It is also very interesting that another of the findings of this previous report, that “Some IACUC’s are not effectively monitoring research facilities,” has apparently not changed. As stated above, the section of the Animal Welfare Act relevant to the IACUC (Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee) is the most frequently violated portion of the AWA by laboratories.

It appears then, that the overall situation at the USDA/APHIS/AC has not changed appreciably since the last audit by the Office of the Inspector General, two of the most salient problems cited by the OIG, insufficient fines and overall poor enforcement by the Eastern Region, still exist.

We welcome your comments and questions